The Lord Warden.
AFTER a spell of over thirty years' constant employment at sea one welcomes a billet ashore, and such was offered me in the command of H.M.S. Lord Warden, coastguard ship stationed at Queensferry in the Firth of Forth. This was in every way a most charming appointment, entailing plenty of work inspecting the coastguard stations and the drill-ships of the naval reserve around the coast of Scotland, from Berwick-on-Tweed round the north coast to Ullapool on the west, and including the Orkney and the Shetland Isles. Besides the coast guardsmen, I had some 5000 naval reserve men under my orders. These were mostly fishermen from the Orkneys and Shetlands, Aberdeen, Wick, and Inverness, and also a fair proportion of whalers from Dundee and Peterhead, and other ocean-going seamen. They were, taking them all round, a fine body of men, most zealous at their drills, and I doubt not would prove an efficient auxiliary in time of war, when accustomed to the discipline of a man-of-war. At that time, 1882-84, they were drilled with the same class of guns as were used at the battle of Trafalgar! the modern form of ordnance being considered too expensive
IGNORANCE ABOUT THE NAVY.
and too complicated for their understanding. It is difficult to imagine of what use the old drill could have been to them, but for that I was not responsible. In the Shetlands alone we turned out 1800 strapping fellows, and it occurred to me that here would be a fine stock from which to recruit our navy. Never was a greater mistake. In reply to my suggestion, I was ordered to the Shetlands to obtain recruits for the navy. No sooner had the Lord Warden anchored at Lerwick than the natives fled to the mountains, fearing the press-gang. In vain I held a meeting at the town hall, and pointed out the advantages of the navy; not a single recruit did I get. The fishermen explained afterwards that it was more to their advantage to keep their boys to help with the fishing than to hire others in lieu. Much disgusted, I returned to the Forth, and never repeated the experiment.
To my mind the ignorance of all that concerns the navy was one of the most remarkable traits in our people. It is easy to understand that the natives of our midland counties, who have never seen the sea nor any craft larger than a barge, should not be able to appreciate the necessity of the navy for this empire; but this ignorance or indifference was not confined to the lower classes, and I have been asked before now, Of what use is the navy? Are we not afraid of pirates? and suchlike, by people who ought to know better. On one occasion an old lady at Inverness station took me for the railway guard, not knowing the naval uniform, and asked me to find her a carriage, which I did. In refusing the customary tip, I told her confidentially that I was not the guard, but that he was a cousin of mine, at which she seemed
THE LORD WARDEN.
much pleased. At another place in Scotland I was taken for a Salvation Army captain: I explained that my lecture would come off at 4 P.M., by which time I took care to be in the train. But these amusing incidents were quite eclipsed some years later at Calcutta., where on the occasion of my wife's "At Home " one old lady apologised for being late because the boatman had taken her on board a "dirty little river-steamer," pointing to the Marathon, one of my smartest cruisers; whilst another remarked to Captain Giffard, my flag-captain, "she so loved to see the dear sailors lying drunk about the streets, it reminded her of home!" a compliment that was hardly appreciated by him, seeing that our men were remarkably well behaved.
But this state of affairs has happily now changed, and during the last ten years - dating, in fact, from the Naval Exhibition - the interest in the navy has increased to a remarkable extent, so much so that we have now no reason to complain of neglect. This satisfactory result has been attained mainly by a few eminent naval officers who have so earnestly and eloquently appealed to the public, placing before them the absolute necessity for a powerful navy, and how the existence of our empire depended on it. In this direction they have been nobly supported by the press, irrespective of party. The result is that at the present time we possess a navy which in strength and efficiency has had no parallel in the history of the nation.
A word also about the coastguard. Until I had anything to do with them I had no idea what a fine body of men they were, many in the prime of life,- not the decrepit old shell-backs which some
suppose them to be, whose duty would appear to be looking after nursery-maids and perambulators on Southsea beach. The days of smuggling are probably past, but when the storm ariseth and men are in peril on the sea, then the coastguardsmen are in their glory, helping to man the lifeboat or hasten to the wreck with the rocket apparatus. This is especially the case on the stormy coasts of Scotland, where the coastguard stations are not so well manned as on the south coast of England, and the work is harder. I had occasion, when returning thanks for the navy at the annual banquet of the Scottish Academy in Edinburgh, to give effect to these sentiments, which I am pleased to say were very well received by a sympathetic audience.
In going my rounds of the coastguard stations in Scotland, I had occasion to visit a place called Tongue, in Sutherlandshire, which had not been inspected for three years. It was an out-of-the-way place, the nearest station to it being some forty miles off, and there was only a solitary coastguardman there. I thought it was about time he was looked up, so I went round that way, and found him living in a neat cottage with his wife and family. Having inspected him, I returned to my hotel, and the next morning started in a close carriage for Lairg, a forty-seven-mile drive. It was pitch dark, and the ground was covered with snow, it being the depth of winter. Just as I was leaving the hotel the man appeared at the window. " What is it? " I said. "Please, sir, it's twins ! Boy and girl, sir - Mrs Taylor, sir - sudden shock of your visit, so unexpected like. Mother and children doing well, sir-" It is an interesting fact that the district
THE LORD WARDEN.
captain's visit should have had such a magical effect !
During this round of inspection I was accompanied by the divisional officer, who asked my permission to bring his dog, a retriever, with him. The poor animal was in very low condition, and I remarked, "What a mean-looking dog!" He said he had paid £10 for him to a keeper, so I wrote out a bogus certificate to certify that the dog had been examined by a vet, and stating that he was suffering from every complaint which dogs are liable to, and concluding that he had evidently been scandalously treated, and was not worth the money paid for him. This certificate was forwarded to the keeper, who, after abusing the vet, practically admitted the charge, and remitted £6 out of the £10 originally paid for the animal.
One of Lord Moray's keepers, an old fellow named Anderson, was a special favourite of mine, and I used to give him a roll of ship's tobacco now and then. This tobacco is made up in a curious way, being tightly bound round with canvas and laid over with tarred rope. On meeting Anderson some time afterwards I asked him how he liked the baccy. "Weel captain," said he, "the tobacco is verra fine, but it's a pity it is so much adulterated!" " Why," I said, "it's pure Virginia!" I found he had cut up and smoked it, canvas, tarred rope, and all!
We had on board the Lord Warden two boatswains, one for deck duty, the other the bo's'n of the ship - they lived together in a mess by themselves. One day Mr S., the supernumerary bo's'n, reported his messmate, Mr B., for having used violent and threatening language to him. I investigated the case, when the following evidence was adduced :
MR B. ON HIS DEFENCE
Mr S. (a little man with a squeaky voice). "Please, sir, I went into my mess, when Mr B. abused me in the most shocking manner, using language which was certainly not parliamentary! and threatened to kick me out of the mess."
"Well, Mr B., what have you got to say to the charge ?"
Mr B. (a big burly fellow). "No, sir; I spoke to Mr S. firmly but kindly!"
I thereupon turned to the complainant and asked him if he could repeat the language, which he did, but it was of so foul and disgusting a nature as to be unfit for publication. I thereupon informed Mr B. that if he did not apologise in writing I should try him by court-martial. Having thus expressed myself, I rushed to my cabin and rolled on the sofa with laughter. The apology was at once made, and the two boatswains remained fast friends to the end of the commission.
One advantage in a home billet is that the captain as well as the crew gets a bit of leave once a-year. When it came to my turn I sent in my application in the usual way. On one column of the form the applicant has to say how much leave he has had and when was the last occasion. I filled this in, "Have never had a day's leave on full pay since I have been in the service!" Considering that this represented over thirty years, I think it a fair record.
In due course the Lord Warden was inspected by Admiral Sir A. Hoskins, the Superintendent of Naval Reserves. We were supplied with a patent fire-extinguisher of the red pillar-post pattern, so to test this apparatus I prepared a spare cabin, filled it with oakum soaked in parafin, and set fire to it.
THE LORD WARDEN.
We gave it five minutes' start and then opened the door and turned on the jet, when the fire was immediately extinguished. Subsequently Sir Anthony hoisted his flag in the Lord Warden, and we had a pleasant cruise to Norway, Heligoland, and along the Scottish coast; but the squadron was a scratch pack, hardly any two ships alike, and none of them worth much, with their thin armour, slow speed, and obsolete armament. As for the Lord Warden herself, she was so rotten we could dig dry wood out of her with a pickaxe, and fungus grew between the beams. However, she answered my purpose very well in peace-time, her accommodation being excellent; but when there appeared a prospect of war with Russia in 1884, I felt compelled to inform their Lordships that the ship I had the honour to command could neither fight nor run away. The result of this letter was my transference to the Ajax, a new ironclad of a novel design.
The exploits of this eccentric craft would fill a volume and be scarcely credited. On leaving Sheerness for the first time on a trial trip with Admiral Sir John Corbett, the Commander-in-Chief, and a party of ladies on board, she took charge, and very nearly ran down an Indiaman crowded with troops. She next parted her cable in a dead calm in Dover Roads through sheering about with the tide and bringing the cable across the ram ; and the next day, going down Channel at full speed, she carried her helm three turns a-starboard for six hours, when without warning she, as sailors say, "broke her sheer" and came round on a pivot, scattering the merchant vessels in all directions, till we got her straightened up again, when she carried her helm hard-a-port all
the rest of the way to Portsmouth. In fact there was no knowing what tricks the old girl was up to. The reason of this extraordinary performance was due to the fact that she was shaped like a spoon, being too broad for her length and flat-bottomed; and having a coarse run, she carried a huge body of water in her wake, in which the rudder was useless. After nearly ramming the Agincourt she was paid off as too dangerous to manoeuvre with a fleet.
I took this opportunity, being unemployed, to take a trip to Newfoundland to shoot caribou with the late Sir A. Fowler. During this expedition we had many adventures, being half-starved for several days owing to our having got separated from our boats with the stores. We were reduced to a small piece of pork, as salt as Lot's wife, and a few biscuits, which were so hard that we had to soak them in water and break them with a stone. Fortunately we met with two caribou and killed them both, so when our men overtook us we had abundance of meat. We also captured a beaver, and ate his tail, which is considered a great delicacy; but, taken on an empty stomach, it made me sick.
On this trip we struck in at Hall's Bay and crossed the island from east to west, coming out at the Bay of Islands, where we were hospitably entertained by the Rev. Mr Curling, who lived there for many years, devoting his time and much of his fortune to the poor settlers, by whom he was universally beloved. A day or two before we reached the west coast we were camped on the shores of Grand Pond when our hut caught fire in the middle of the night, and we were just able to save ourselves and our effects when the roof fell in.
THE LORD WARDEN.
The best route to reach the barrens for hunting caribou is by either Hall's Bay or the Bay of Islands. In either case deer may be met with in forty-eight hours. On one of these expeditions I was accompanied by the late Sir Rose Price, a capital sportsman. Soon after we started it was evident that we had not sufficient men to pole our boats up stream, and it was necessary to procure another "hand"; but where to get one was the trouble. To return was out of the question. Whilst crossing a lake and thinking the matter over, I happened to hear the sound of an axe in the wood; so proceeding to the spot, I landed, and came across a lumberer's camp with one man, a splendid young fellow, at work, when the following conversation took place: "Good morning, my lad; what's your name?" "Smith, Sir." "What! John Smith?" "No, Sir; William Smith." "Why, the very man I am looking for: you've got to come along with me." "Me, Sir, I am working for Mr____." "Oh, that's all right; don't you make any mistake about it, so come along at once;" and come he did, and he proved the best man of the party, so cheery and willing, and as strong as a horse. Ten days later we were on our way back, and Smith had to be returned to his rightful owner. I had killed a big stag that morning, and brought down his haunches as a peace-offering for Smith's master. We reached his camp after dark, and I led the way, followed by Bill bearing the haunches of venison. The lumberers were having tea, so I joined them and wished the "boss" good evening. I fancied his reception was not cordial: however, I took no notice, and smoked a pipe and had a pannikin of tea, when I
rose to go, and left the venison. Then it all came out. The "boss" followed me, and accused me of taking away his best man, and said he had had to hire a horse to do his work. Expressing my regret and astonishment, I explained that the whole affair was a complete misunderstanding. However, I paid the poor fellow for his horse, and we parted good friends, though to this day I expect he is at a loss to know exactly where the "misunderstanding" arose. The only thing clear about it was, that our expedition would have been a failure but for the help of Bill Smith.
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